When I told people that I was moving to Thailand to teach English, the most common response was, “Oh! My [friend, cousin, sibling, grocery store cashier, etc] did that!” And I wondered why Thailand is such a popular place to teach English abroad.
There has been a large influx of recent graduates – as well as people who have been out of school for a while – accepting ESL teaching jobs in countries around the globe instead of seeking work domestically.
What has caused this shift?
As traveling has become easier and more affordable (so they say — my bank account might disagree!) the world is open for continued exploration. If you compare the places our so-called Baby Boomers had visited by age 30 to the sights current 30 year olds have seen, you’ll notice a big difference. This can be attributed, in part, to study abroad programs that allow college students a chance to roam around a new part of the world, sometimes even with help from scholarships.
Another reason a greater number of people are seeking opportunities abroad is due to the current job landscape in the U.S. Millennials who are about to enter the work force might not feel welcome based on many news articles about how they’re viewed as entitled employees by older generations. Additionally, there’s less pressure to dive into a career immediately after graduation. Statistics show that people change jobs much more frequently, and even pursue brand new career paths throughout life more often than our ancestors did. If we’re bound to explore a variety of jobs, why not try teaching and traveling as well?
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Perhaps the most enticing aspect of teaching English abroad is the fact that you’re earning money while seeing more of our planet. Instead of blowing your savings to backpack for a few months, you can be an expat (short for expatriate, or someone who lives in another country) for several years without relying on an income from back home (especially if you budget smartly.)
So how do we settle on our teach abroad destinations? For some, it’s about seeking cultural differences. For others, it’s about the academic schedule. Everyone has his/her own reasons for choosing a new home, whether domestically or abroad, but here are a few of the most popular motivating factors for some of Thailand’s newest educators.
“I wanted to experience a culture that varies from my own.”
Coming from the city of Boston by way of Connecticut’s suburbs, saying Thailand has a completely different culture is an understatement. As a New England girl, I had grown accustomed to interacting in a manner as cold as our winters. I rarely made eye contact on the street, definitely did not engage in conversations with people I didn’t know and generally kept to myself in public. Here in Thailand, it’s normal for strangers to exchange smiles and greetings for no reason.
Additionally, there is a much more laid back attitude in Thailand – especially compared to the hustle and bustle of East Coast city life. The saying that we use to describe Thai zeitgeist is “mai phen rai.” This is loosely translated to mean “no worries,” “never mind,” or “whatever will be, will be.” It’s a commonly used phrase that encompasses the way that Thai people go through life. Their focus is on “sahnuk,” or fun and relaxation, not working to the point of stress or misery.
“The local food/fashion/activities.”
The ways Thai culture differs from my former life go beyond the unfamiliar friendly interactions. Some of the food, clothing and hobbies are also new to me.
The Thai food I experienced in the States was pretty much just Phad Thai with plenty of peanut flavor. Authentic Thai food is known for its spiciness, fresh seafood and liberal use of fish sauce. Some people come here thinking “I can handle spicy food” and then receive a rude awakening when they ask for a dish to be “pehd maak,” or very spicy.
Because I live in a pretty modern Thai city, I don’t often see traditional clothing. However, one of the most interesting fashion trends I see regularly is couples same-same-ing. When I walk around the mall or go to the beach, I’m guaranteed to see lovers wearing the same shirts or at least the same color scheme. According to one of my Thai friends, this is done to show outsiders that these people are taken.
Other people are enticed by Thailand’s beautiful landscape. It’s a popular destination for divers to glimpse exotic underwater populations and hikers to reach breath-taking vistas. For me, the combination of majestic mountains and crystal blue water influenced my decision to move to Thailand. The sights I see are so unlike what I’ve experienced in the past, and living in such unfamiliar surroundings is refreshing.
“The location fit my personal timeline.”
Thai school semesters work on an unconventional cycle compared to most Western schools. Instead of semesters going from August/September to December then January to May/June, Semester One runs from May to September and Semester Two is from late October to March. This is perfect for fresh graduates in the West, particularly those who finish their degrees in May or June, because they have a bit of time to prepare for the move, but not enough time to get TOO comfortable living at home.
What do you find most attractive about Thailand? Is it the warm climate, the mouth-watering food or the low cost of living? Are you looking to join a culture that prioritizes happiness over working to the bone? Whatever draws you to the Land of Smiles, it’s the perfect place to take a break from the life you’ve grown accustomed to and educate a new generation of Thai people.
Words and photos by Christine Hayes.